Peers lead vaping education

Mackenzie Condon and Emma Searle

Student facilitators at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) recently educated their peers in health classes on the harmful effects of vaping as part of a nation-wide effort called Catch my Breath, which is funded by CVS Pharmacy to combat adolescent addiction and includes the primary objective of peers educating each other.

Physical Education Department Chair and health teacher Kathy Perrotta believes that combating addiction begins with in-school education. She sought out student facilitators who were trained during a flex block to lead the discussions in health classes. “There’s a misconception that everyone knows what’s in the Juul,” she said.

Vaping devices, which include e-cigarettes, Juuls, and vape pens, are often marketed as health products and appeal to minors with cartridge flavors such as mango or mint. Their flash drive-like shape allows them to be easily disguised.

While there is much awareness among adolescents around the dangers of what’s in cigarettes, Juuls are also sold as nicotine devices, yet they are still becoming increasingly popular.

Gym teacher Craig Yuhas said, “I don’t think many kids realize the chemicals that are in [them] because of the flavorings.”

Catch my Breath discussions utilized informative slideshows to educate students on what chemicals are actually involved and the effects vaping can have on school life and personal health.

Mr. Yuhas believes the peer-led discussions were crucial to a successful outcome of the program. “I think friends helping out friends is probably the biggest deterrent in terms of having kids not start [vaping],” he said. “The best approach is to use this program to get the kids who haven’t tried it to prevent them from trying it.”

The number of teens nationwide using vaping devices nearly doubled among high school seniors from 11 percent in 2017 to 20.9 percent in 2018 according to a nationwide survey funded by a government grant to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The survey was conducted in 2018 by Monitoring the Future (MTF) and used a nationally representative sample of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

The effects of vaping in school have become more noticeable as its popularity has increased. Victoria said, “School is a place where people are supposed to be focused; partaking in stuff like [vaping] negatively impacts your education.”

Principal Sara Dingledy said, “There are some kids that really cannot be in class more than twenty minutes at a time because of addictive elements that are a result of e-cigarettes or vaping.”

Senior Kayla Eddy said, “Negative consequences such as breathing problems were a big deterrent for me not to vape. I know for many kids that can be a deterrent, but sometimes health issues are not enough for young people who don’t see the effects right away. That’s why I understand the stringent disciplinary policies.”

According to the MVRHS Student Handbook, smoking and substance abuse on school grounds can result in a suspension, and any tobacco products or paraphernalia will be confiscated.

Principal Dingledy said, “I don’t think in many students’ minds there’s a health risk, so the school’s responsibility is to create a risk that may be beyond health and that is why we have to discipline.”

Junior Bella Giordano said, “Catch my Breath went beyond just, ‘Vaping is bad, don’t vape,’ which we hear a lot. As a participant, I can say I think the program gave students personal confirmation that there’s a reason not to vape and when students know that the school is working to decrease vape and JUUL usage I think that really helps.”

Catch my Breath will continue in health classes this May.